FRANK RANDLE was a Jekyll and Hyde character.
On the one hand arguably Britain's greatest ever comic character actor, kind-hearted, generous, charitable, king of the double entendre and yet a gentleman who disapproved of bad behaviour in front of the ladies.
But quite capable too of being devious, aggressive, foul-mouthed, drunk or "plainly mad".
Hence the title of the book on the life of Randle, who died 50 years ago this year, as Wired To The Moon. The authors, the brothers Philip Martin and David L Williams, admit that even today it is extremely difficult to find out what made Randle tick.
Perhaps the best clues lie in his early life. Born illegitimate as Arthur Hughes in the township of Aspull in the parish of Wigan, "Frank" had an unsettled beginning, living first with an aunt and then another family, rarely seeing his mother but eventually in real life taking the surname of his stepfather as a teenage Arthur McEvoy.
At the height of his fame, as the Williamses record, he was a music hall legend, the major attraction for years in Blackpool summer shows, the star of several low budget films, all box office successes. His own touring company Randle's Scandals packed theatres for over 10 years.
One of his regular calling places was Huddersfield's Palace Theatre and a 1956 visit, not long before his death from TB in 1957, shows clearly his hair-trigger temper.
Says the book: "Randle was always generous to the waiters, chambermaids and all those who looked after him at the hotels where he stayed while on tour.
"A ritual he performed every Sunday morning, prior to breakfast, was to carefully place the gratuities into envelopes all neatly inscribed with the names of the recipients. At the end of a rather uneventful week at Huddersfield, Randle was in his hotel attempting to carry out his usual practice.
"The hotel was a quaint old-fashioned place full of Victorian style and décor and somewhat dimly lit. Consequently Randle said to a waitress: 'I can't see here love, this bloody light have you got a stronger bulb?'
"Somewhat apologetic, she tried to explain: 'Well, Mr Randle you see it goes with the décor, it has to be'
"Before she could finish her sentence Randle abruptly shouted: 'Well f*** that, go and buy a bulb, I'll f****** pay for it.' "
At the end of breakfast, Randle pushed his teacup to one side and decided it was time for a stronger drink, though the hotel bar was not due to open for a good couple of hours.
"Being refused service by a waiter he demanded to see the manager, who did himself no favours by keeping him waiting for around 20 minutes. The manager explained that the licensing laws dictated that the bar could not be opened until twelve o'clock.
"To which a less-than-pleased Randle snapped: 'F*** the licensing laws and f*** you.... Now open the f****** bar. "Needless to say Frank Randle got his wish and after about three drinks it was time for the drive to Northampton."
Randle, says the book, "couldn't perform without a dressing room stocked with Guinness and an intake of 60 Woodbine cigarettes a day".
He must have been an acquired taste - especially for southern audiences. He belched loudly after drinking beer from a bottle on stage and often closed his show by throwing his false teeth into the audience.
Sometimes he simply didn't turn up for his own show, he trashed dressing rooms, threw food at mayoral portraits and verbally assaulted the police.
The Williamses says he wasn't a comedian in the sense of the stand-up variety. He didn't tell jokes per se and the small collection in his repertoire were to last him his whole career.
His strength was in character creations like The Boatman, Grandpa and his classic The Old Hiker and in catchphrases "Gerrof mi foot", "I've supped some ale toneet" and "She's a hot 'un".
He worked with and influenced a whole generation of artists - including Roy Castle during his time with the Norman Teal Trio.
Trying to staunch the haemorrhage of support for live acts in the Fifties he had attempted to revive the old Accrington Hippodrome. One Randle brainchild was a once-a-night variety show starting at a reasonable time, instead of the old cram to get in two paying shows.
On the other hand, when that didn't work he once planned to "bomb" the town with toilet rolls in revenge for their lack of support.
* Wired To The Moon. Philip Martin Williams and David L Williams/History On Your Doorstep. £15.99 (£12.99 with free p and p direct on 0161-3433928)